The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


What Adland Can Learn From Latvia About Creativity …

I’ve written a lot about the one dimensional view adland has towards who they regard as creative and creativity as a whole – except when it’s Cannes time of course – but I was recently reminded how this view remains by a recent purchase of a guitar effect pedal.

No, seriously.

I don’t mean it purely because this pedal can create infinite sustain for any musical instrument – though that is very impressive – I mean it because it was created by 3 young, Latvian electronic students who are also amateurs musicians.

Now I don’t know much about Latvia, but I don’t think ‘music technology leader’ immediately springs to mind and yet, their product has taken away all the attention from the big, established players at all the music shows it has been featured at.

What they did is – for me – an example of where creativity is at its most exciting as well as it’s most powerful … and yet so much of adland would dismiss their efforts as not only do they only value creativity in the context of art and copy, but only regard people who sit in the creative department as being creative.

Don’t get me wrong, the people in there have a very special and valuable talent … but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones who are creative and can solve commercial problems for clients.

As I said once before, it’s funny that the only people who refer to themselves as ‘creative’, are those who reside in ad agencies.

Writers don’t.
Musicians don’t.
Artists don’t.
Film makers don’t.
And Latvian electronic students – who also play musical instruments – don’t.

To be fair, many of the great creatives I’ve worked with don’t refer to themselves in such a singular way, especially as they have many ways of expressing their talent but sadly, due to the way agencies make money and clients determine good work, they are constrained in their creative expression to only doing work that fits with ‘traditional’ marketing channels. [read: the stuff that is measurable so clients feel OK paying for it]

This is annoying for many reasons, but mainly for the fact our industries future isn’t going to get better if the powers-that-be continue to think the best way to make money is to charge for process management rather than charging a premium for solving problems in the most imaginative, powerful and meaningful of ways.
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As you mull that over, I have some good news for you …

It’s a long weekend here so you are free from me until Tuesday.

Now while I know you will prefer that to the ad industry sorting itself out, the fact is if we an an industry leant back into the value of creativity rather than advertising [even though we often call advertising creativity – which it is, but you know what I mean], then I am sure it would make every day feel a bit more like a holiday than a job …. which is one of the ways we actually get to the work we all strive to make.

And with that, I’m off … ta-ra.

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Freddie And Friends …

Many years ago I worked with a Swedish planner called Fredrik Sarnblad.

I loved him.

I loved him for many reasons …

His brain.

His humour.

His creativity.

His friendship.

His unsatisfiable appetite.

We went through all manner of trials and tribulations together … from highs of convincing work to send us to Bali for a week so we could work on the SONY pitch strategy in peace [which, thank god, we won] to lows of being in Thailand with a client who spent all their time trying to undermine us in front of their colleagues. [which we, read: me, didn’t react to very well]

And while we’ve not worked together for over 11 years, Freddie was always more than an ex-colleague, but a real friend … exemplified by the fact that when we saw each other in Boston a few weeks ago – after almost 6 years apart – it was like nothing had changed.

My relationship with Freddie is different to that of many of my other friends.

One of those reasons is I’ve never made a highly inappropriate blog about the way they dress.

The other is that I can have really personal and emotional conversations about life with him.

That’s not to say I can’t with my other mates, it’s just I rarely do … but with Freddie, we always did and do. Talking about subject many people find uncomfortable but are true for all of us.

The reason this can happen is that Freddie is both self aware and in touch with who he is.

He doesn’t shy away from the big conversations because he knows that’s where life resides … the real stuff, not the things we use to distract us from dealing with the real stuff.

One of the things we talked about recently was happiness.

Initially it was in the context of family but it quickly evolved to the job we are paid to do.

Creativity.

We talked about what makes us happy, what frustrates us and what we can do to make things better … more fun … more interesting and exciting. We even talked about how we can work together again.

Well that conversation must have had a real impact on Freddie because weeks later, he quit his job and started his own agency.

To be honest, I think that’s a bit extreme … all he had to do was say he didn’t want to work with me again … but I’m super happy and excited for him.

I’ve written many times why everyone should experience starting their own business, but in Freddie’s case it’s a little different.

Don’t get me wrong, it will be amazing for him – but the real value will come from the companies that use him because he’ll not only make them better, he’ll make them discover what they are capable of being.

So congratulations my dear Freddie, I look forward to one day being one of your shitkickers …

Knock them dead …

You can find out what he’s doing and how he’s doing it here.



How Technology Can Help Protect Humans …

So this is linked to yesterdays post about AI/VR.

A friend of mine recently put up this poster of an idea he’s trying to get Amazon to do with their Alexa virtual assistant.

Basically he wants Amazon to allow people suffering from domestic abuse, to be able to set up a ‘safe word’ in Alexa.

If the word is ever heard, Alexa will automatically start recording all ambient noise and send it directly to the Police.

While I appreciate there are a mass of legal implications, it’s a simple, brilliant idea … designed to empower humanity rather than laziness.

The fact is was created by a planner, in an agency, makes me extra-happy.

I’ve written a lot about my frustration that too many agencies believe creativity only exists if you sit in the creative department – and while what they do is an amazing thing that can take ideas to even more magical places – they do not have the monopoly on creative thinking and this is additional proof of that. Better yet, my mate is not doing it for an award or some scam shit, he’s doing it because he gives a shit about humanity and has created an idea that could make a real difference to someone’s life.

Something we are all supposed to be doing but often end up just communicating.

If anyone out there knows someone of influence at Amazon, please can you show them this.




It’s Called Artificial For A Reason …

So this is sort-of following on from yesterdays post.

Specifically the last line of yesterday’s post.

The bit about AI/VR.

You see a few weeks ago, I was invited to speak on a panel about the future by Frog Design.

No, I don’t know why they asked me either.

Anyway, it was a great panel and I learnt a lot of stuff but where things got a bit sticky was when the subject of AI came up.

OK, I was the reason it all got a bit sticky, but that’s because I feel companies are approaching AI with the sole goal of enabling the lazy.

Yes, it’s still early days but automating the most common/basic of tasks feels such a waste of potential.

I get they have to get people used to things before they can push them to new things, but to focus on such mundane tasks doesn’t naturally push the industry to explore the bigger possibilities of it.

My suggestion was that I’d like to see it being used to take people to new places.

New opinions … thoughts … possibilities … experiences.

More inspirational intelligence than artificial.

When you ask for news headlines, it reads you how different news sources see the same story.

When you ask for a countdown, it plays you music you haven’t heard before until the timer is up.

When you ask for the weather, it tells you some places you can go to, to take advantage of the climate.

In other words, make you benefit from the AI beyond the fact it’s performing a function that saves you approx 0.3 seconds doing. Kind-of like the premise behind user-unfriendly tech I wrote about a while back.

Of course to do this means that they have to do more than just follow the data.

It means they have to add something to it.

Context. Insight. Humanity. Creativity.

Things that companies are seemingly valuing less rather than more.

To be fair, Amazon are trying to do this with some of the more quirky aspects of Alexa … but I still would like to see more being done, because not only does this add real value to the tech, it means brands have a chance to build additional value with their audience rather than sit back and watch their engagement get less and less.



Variety Is Not The Spice Of Life, But The Essence Of It …

As I’ve written many times, my parents drilled into me that a life of fulfillment is much more valuable than a life of contentment.

As I’ve also written many times, I didn’t realise what this really meant until I hit my late 30’s.

And yet, despite that, I seemed to have embraced their philosophy in how I was living my life, including who I hired.

Put simply, I gave always valued someone who lived an interesting life more than someone who lived an interesting advertising life.

You’d think the two are connected, but that’s not always the case.

And that’s why I liked – and still like – people who have tried stuff.

It almost doesn’t matter if it worked out or not, the key is they’ve tried things and can recognise why it all turned out as it did.

Even if that’s about acknowledging the importance of luck.

So people who have travelled, worked in different industries, toured in a band, studied contemporary art, been arrested, written a fanzine, graffiti’d the hell out of things, created stuff – even if that’s kids beds – will always be initially more attractive to me than someone who studied advertising, worked in advertising and made advertising.

That doesn’t mean people who live an ‘ad-life’ aren’t good or valuable – of course they are – but I genuinely believe the more experiences you have, the more you will contribute to ideas that don’t just differentiate themselves from the usual ad noise, but offer a point of view that is undeniably infectious creatively and culturally.

Because as Peter Ustinov, the great actor, once said …

“People who reach the top of the tree are those who haven’t got the qualifications to detain them at the bottom”.

But here’s the thing …

While I am celebrating ‘generalists’, this is more than just someone who flitters from one thing to another.

I’m talking about those who commit to something. Throw themselves into what they do. Are seriously wounded when it goes wrong but have it open doors to something new they may never have considered without.

And while outsiders may see all this as random acts of experimentation, is actually a continuous stream of fulfillment because the people who do this stuff know the more they live, the more they have to offer.

Or to paraphrase Mr Ustinov, the more you explore, the more see what’s possible.



Trust Is The Most Important Word In Everything …

Originally this was going to be a post about patience.

We live at a time where the urge to rush to judgement seems omnipresent, however we often forget that each of us is going through personal situations that can affect how we behave and so what we experience may not be who the other party really is.

There’s this quote that says something like, “if we knew the troubles that weighed on the minds of the people we talk to, we might react to what they say in a very different way”.

And that quote is right, however in our rush-rush, myopic state-of-mind, we rarely stop to even consider that – let alone explore it – so the results we get might never be as positive as they could be if we had just stopped for a beat and thought of the other person.

That’s what this post was going to be about but then something happened.

You see recently I discovered someone betrayed my trust.

The irony is what they told another party was incorrect.

But that doesn’t make it any better.

And then I remembered that quote that says, “the worst thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies” and they’re right.

I liked this person.

I still do.

But for some reason they thought it was right to do something that was wrong.

And right there, things got damaged because trust is everything in a relationship … whether that’s with a loved one, a colleague or a client.

Trust means you can disagree without any lasting damage.

Trust means you can let people explore things you don’t understand.

Trust means you can let teams go to the wire before they reveal their work.

Because trust is about believing the other person has your back … that their standards, goals and expectations match yours.

That doesn’t mean you’ll always like what they’ve done, but it does mean you can be honest about it and they’ll listen to you and you’ll listen to them. Not because you want to necessarily have a ‘compromise’ on the outcome, but because you want to make sure what you’re doing is the work the person best placed to make that call wants to make.

The work that excites them … or makes them laugh or simply shit-their-pants.

And while it would be nice to think trust happens simply by spending time together, it doesn’t.

The reality is trust comes slowly.

It tests you.

It see’s what you’re made of at the most vulnerable times.

But when you have it, it’s the most amazing feeling you can have.

It liberates you.

It lets you literally get to places bigger that you could ever get to on your own.

And that’s why I am always willing to let someone I trust make mistakes, but never when it’s to save their own neck.

Which is why trust is so hard to earn and so quick to lose.

Because as they say, united we stand divided we fall.



When Science Fiction Becomes Science Fact …

So Elon Musk’s SpaceX company successfully launched his Falcon Heavy rocket.

I was interested for many reasons, most notably for the fact that when he launched his previous rocket – I saw it but didn’t know what it was, so my brain got bent out of shape as I tried to work out whether it was an alien invasion, a Korean rocket or just a Hollywood stunt.

As it did to many others too.

For the record, to make sure Otis wasn’t scared by his parents and odd-parents reaction, I told him it was Santa doing a ‘trial Christmas run’.

He didn’t believe it … which is impressive because at that stage, none of us knew what was actually going on.

But this launch was different.

Bigger. More innovative. More spectacle.

And as amazing as all that is, what I found the most fascinating was how they made the booster rockets return back to earth.

IN UNISON!!!

I’m not saying this just because it’s the sort of thing you only expect to see in a JJ Abrams movie, but because by doing that – he just reduced the cost of space exploration from NASA’s billion dollar a flight price tag, to about 90 million.

Incredible.

But there is something even more wonderful.

No, I’m not talking about the fact it’s made me write the most topical post in this blogs history, I’m talking about how it has reignited the imagination of people around the World.

Shifting the aspirations of tech from making a billion dollar app to literally changing the potential future of the World.

Of course you need a lot of money to do that, but everyone has to start somewhere and as long as Musk continues to show how to do this with responsibility and humour for the benefit of the planet [unlike how he conducts his personal life], then I think he has just introduced humanity to an incredibly exciting chapter in it’s development.

And boy do we need that.